Monthly Archives: July 2015

What Folly!

My sister was walking by a lake called Pühajärv near Otepää in Estonia and came upon this old rowboat planted with flowers. Lately I’ve been reaping the benefits of her photography and her good eye. She snapped a photo and sent it to me, and inadvertently inspired this post.

She got me thinking about garden follies and how they came to be. First off, a folly is an architectural object meant for gazing at, and not necessarily functional in another way. In 18th century British and French gardens, structures with styles borrowed from cultures around the world were designed as part of the garden. You would find Roman, Chinese or Egyptian elements that seemed…well…foolish in their context. These imports did have underlying meanings, though. Each piece represented characteristics and virtues that mattered to the owner.

garden folly

Photography credit: Kris Williams

Here’s a folly (above) that’s part of a terraced garden at Baron Hill Mansion in Beaumaris (Wales). The mansion has been abandoned for many decades and is in a state of disrepair, but that in no way hurts the folly. The abandonment and patina make it more charming and certainly a more interesting focal point for the camera.

garden folly

Photo credit: David McDermott

Can you imagine the decadent parties that once took place at Painswick Rococo Gardens with this folly as a backdrop? The flip-side of all this fabulousness is that many follies were built by impoverished people. At times follies were constructed for the purpose of giving peasants jobs.

While 18th century follies were created as intentional parts of the garden, since then some follies have earned the label simply by decaying beyond usefulness. Case in point:

garden folly

Photo credit: ukgardenphotos

Once a functioning boathouse, now a folly. Located in Scotney Castle Landscape Gardens (England), the boat house is among the ruins on property surrounding a moated 14th century medieval English castle. Because it’s dilapidated, boats can’t be stored here (it’s literally caving in), but it’s a beautiful scene all the same, and a must-see part of the landscape.

garden folly

Photography credit: Rachel Kinbar

With that premise, anything can be a folly. Remove the top of a broken birdhouse and fill it with flowers. Situate an antique or found object as a focal point in the yard. Instead of disposing of the old rowboat that almost sunk, transform it into a whimsical planter. It’s fun. It’s funny. It’s a folly!

Do you have a folly in your garden? Tell me about it in the comments below. Or better yet, post a picture of it to my Facebook page for everyone to see.

Hanging with the Horticult

The Horticult

A few months ago my editor mentioned the Horticult (a.k.a. Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit) and thought it would be a good idea to reach out to them. I was all in. Their blog documents their garden-immersed lifestyle, their hands-on approach to making their garden their own, and the amazing d.i.y. creations that earned them Better Homes & Gardens Best Gardening Blog status.

My first conversation with Ryan raised a few questions:

  • How can a house’s architecture engage the garden more deeply and bring the garden into the house?
  • Isn’t it a good idea to create customized containers that are meant to work with specific plants?
  • Shouldn’t renters live in their gardens with the same full-hearted joie de vivre as homeowners?

Basically, and it goes without saying, I immediately knew that Ryan and Chantal are kindred spirits. The frosting: Ryan shot new photos of their entire garden.

The Horticult

There’s so much to see in this garden–so many rooms, and while it’s off the charts on outdoor living, the garden is totally plant-centric.

A Blog Called Plot

One of the couple’s fortés is getting really creative with containers (look at the ammunition cans-turned-planters). They figure, “we’re renting and we’ll need to take all this with us someday, so put as much as possible in pots.” When you need that many containers to house all your beloved plant collections, it naturally breeds ingenuity.

A Blog Called Plot

Another thing I love about their garden is that they use all their space. They make room for everything they want (cooking, growing, dining, sitting, watching) by just wedging it in where it makes sense. I don’t mean to diminish their design genius, I’m just saying they manage to make the unthinkable work, sometimes by insisting that it work.

A Blog Called Plot

It’s impressive in the moment as you take it all in, but you can’t get used to it because just when you feel like you’ve gotten to know their garden (through their blog or if you’re lucky to be a personal friend), it changes. Ryan and Chantal are forever rethinking each element of the garden, from the raised veggie beds, which were once concrete block and are now like this…

A Blog Called Plot

…To the fireplace room, where portable cedar fence pieces disguise the unattractive fencing behind it. Like the containers they found and made to grow their plants in, the fence can be taken along with them someday when they move because it’s mobile.

A Blog Called Plot

This is just a taste. There’s so much more. Satiate yourself by becoming a dedicated reader of their blog.


July 9, 2015

A Path to the Garden

Rick Abraham

I don’t have much of a garden.

My lame excuse is that the shady slope in my back yard isn’t conducive to gardening, and I don’t have a front yard. Someday I’ll get serious and terrace the hill that leads down to the lake, and plant a ton of tropicals back there. For now, I have containers beside the garage, back door and on the patio. I water them sometimes.

Our two mighty palm trees frame the view of the sunset over the water. That’s something. (Actually it’s really something and you’re invited to come hang out, have a glass of wine and see it for yourself!)

If not for my job, though, I’d probably feel pretty distant from the garden world. When I worked in publishing I was saturated with pictures of gardens, conversations about gardens, pitches from garden writers, and trips to see gardens. It was awesome, but working with Anna at our content agency is awesome, too.


Anna & I

Some of the clients Anna and I do web marketing for are garden designers, and we get to see their amazing creations and write about them. (See a couple of examples by clicking here and here.) It’s nice to keep a toe dipped into that pond, even as I’m spending my other hours writing about massage therapy, baseball bats, lung cancer, dental equipment, mortgages, and car accidents (in no particular order).

Kerry Meyer wrote an article for the Proven Winners website called “Gardening for the Time Starved” that puts container gardening out there as a solution for people like me, and she’s spot-on.

As she points out, setting things up right on the front end (nurturing great soil and choosing low-maintenance plants that are a perfect for your environment and resistant to disease and pests) is fundamental to enjoying the fruits with very little labor.

The point is, even if your yard is basic, if you don’t have tons of money to pour into your garden (ah-hem), or if you don’t have time to do much digging in the dirt, and no matter what your job is, you can find a path to the garden.

Featured image photo credit: Rick Abraham

A Garden Design Called Piña Colada

garden design

I had the best conversation with landscape architect Michelle Derviss last week. She has her own design studio and has created many Bay Area gardens, but it’s the one in her own backyard in Novato, CA, that we discussed.

Over a decade ago, Michelle was dealing with some serious health challenges, and needed a place to completely relax and recover. She decided to echo elements of the places she loves to travel to most: the islands of Southeast Asia.

The 12 x 14-foot concrete patio was already in place. It was in rough shape, and probably original to the 1947-built house. Undeterred, Michelle designed right on top of it, covering imperfections with exotic outdoor carpets.

She had a traditional teak Balinese day bed that she had brought back from Bali the year before, and that has become the centerpiece of the garden. It’s soft and plush, upholstered with outdoor fabric and cushy pillows.

Michelle Derviss

The bed, a coffee table and other furnishings are nestled between bromeliads (many of which were bought from the plant table at San Francisco Bromeliad Society meetings), calla lilies, bamboo, and hakonechloa. The garden really is transporting–you feel as if you’re on a tropical vacation moments after walking through the garage. She calls it her Piña Colada garden, because being in the garden feels like a Piña Colada tastes.

As Michelle regained her health, the garden has entertained more and more visitors, and she hosts her friends from the Bromeliad Society as well as the Hortisexuals, a group of Bay Area plant professionals who have been going strong since the 1980s. Michelle welcomes guests desperate to escape the heat, since Novato is a cooler pocket.
I don’t know that you would technically label this a “therapeutic garden” but it has served that function, and has many of the qualities that intentionally-therapeutic gardens have. After all, much of what research has revealed about therapeutic garden design is also common sense.

A few traits noted by the Therapeutic Landscapes Network:

  • Plenty of shade
  • A sense of safety and security
  • Easily navigable walking surfaces
  • Lush plantings
  • A wide variety of flora
  • A plethora of seating
  • Spaces that allow for quiet contemplation
  • Positive distractions such as water

Are you interested in therapeutic garden design? Read this article about a San Antonio garden designed for wounded soldiers who have returned to the states.

Do you look to your garden as an oasis or an escape for healing? Please share your thoughts below!